Leonardo da Vinci St AnneThere are ideas which could stop all quarrels; such an idea is the law of three. ~ P. D. Ouspensky

When I worked at a psychiatric clinic as a young man, I was asked this question by a friend: If you could explain one fourth way idea to your colleagues at the clinic, which idea would it be? He was very surprised by my answer. I said that if the doctors and the nurses at the clinic truly understood the law of three, it would have the potential to change our whole approach.

In a nutshell what the law of three means is that every action requires three forces. When three forces are present, things happen, actions are actualized. But without three forces—with one or two forces—nothing happens. There are different names for each force. The first force is called the active or positive or motivating force. The second force is called the negative or passive or denying force. The third force is called the neutralizing or facilitating or invisible force.

All esoteric laws, like the law of three, work both on the scale of our inner world and on the scale of the world around us, but it is often true that a law will be easier to observe in one or the other. I have personally found that the law of three is easiest to observe in my interactions with other people, so that’s what I’ll talk about here.

It’s generally not hard to observe the first and second force in an interaction. Let’s say that you want to go out to a restaurant or to see friends, and your wife (or your husband) doesn’t want to go out. You want to go out and you don’t want to go alone, but your spouse wants to stay home. You are the positive force, you want to act, but your spouse is the passive or negative force. She (or he) resists you. In this example what the law of three means is that if you do nothing but try to motivate the other person to act, you will only increase their resistance. No amount of first force can overcome second force. What is needed is a third force. In this case the third force can come from you or from the outside. Let’s say that your spouse wanted to stay home to watch a show or to do some research on the internet, and it happens that the internet goes down that night night. Their plan is ruined, and that might be enough to neutralize their denying force. In other words, they may now be willing to go out. The action becomes possible because their denying force was neutralized by what happened. What is more likely is that you will have to provide a third force yourself. You will need to think about the conflict in terms of neutralizing their denying force, not in terms of overcoming their denying force. Perhaps you will offer to do something for them in exchange—accompany them somewhere that they want to go in the next week or make them breakfast the next morning. The point in this example is that if you want a result, you have to stop playing a motivating force and start playing a facilitating force.

Let’s take another example. Let’s say you’re sick and you need to go to the doctor, but you don’t have the money so you do nothing for a number of days. The first or motivating force is being sick. The denying force is having no money. You go round and round in your mind about what to do, then a friend or a family member offers to give you the money. That is the third or facilitating force. Using this same example let’s say that money is not an issue. Let’s say that you mistrust doctors, that you’ve been sick like this before and have gone to a doctor and gotten antibiotics, and that it didn’t help. Again the motivating force is being sick or needing help, but this time the denying force is a lack of knowledge about what will help to make you better. In this case maybe a friend tells you about some herbs or supplements that have helped him in the past or about an acupuncturist. This new knowledge of a different approach neutralizes your apathy and allows you to take action and find a treatment.

The third force is sometimes called the invisible force because we are all third force blind; that is, we tend to focus on the first and second force and miss the necessity for a third force. It is how we think: this is what I want and this is what is keeping me from getting it. This type of thinking was very prevalent at the clinic where I worked. Aims were set for the patients and obstacles were discussed. We often treated depressed patients by motivating them. If they were apathetic, we told them that life was worth the trouble, that it was interesting or fun. We motivated them to act by overwhelming their negative and passive view of the world. The problem with this approach was that, in almost all cases, the patients never learned to motivate themselves, so that as soon as the stimulus that we provided was removed, they fell back into their old habits. If we had been more intelligent in our approach, we would have played a third force, not a first force, and tried to find a way to neutralize the denying force they felt in their lives outside the clinic.

Let’s take one more example: you have an old car, it runs okay, but you’ve been thinking it’s time to get a new one. There are advantages on both sides. The positive force in this decision is having a more dependable and perhaps more fuel-efficient car. The negative force is not wanting to have additional debt. You may go for months in a kind of indecision about what to do. But eventually something will happen. Maybe you will lose your job, and so you will definitely decide to keep the old car and fix it up as you can. Maybe the old car will break down and you will decide that it’s not worth fixing and will buy a new one. Maybe you will find a great deal on a nearly new car and decide to buy that.

The point of all these examples is that before the third force arrives, nothing happens. Again: without three forces—with one or two forces—no action or movement is possible. The first two forces, motivation and resistance, simply circle around each other. They do not move toward an action or a conclusion.

You need to teach yourself to see the law of three. This type of knowledge is not innate or instinctive, but once it’s pointed out, and you begin to see it, you will wonder how you lived without it.